Sasha and the Butcher by Stephanie Kazowz

ONE

“Fucking champagne.”

With my eyes squeezed shut, I fumbled with my phone, trying to silence the generic marimba melody blasting through the speakers. My fingers tapped the screen until the room finally fell silent. Well, except for the sound of running water.

I internally sighed. Someone was in the shower. It wouldn’t be like me to wake up alone after a wedding.

The smell of stale booze and sex clawed at my nose, tempting the bile sitting on the back of my tongue to join the party. I was starting to think that a great night out wasn’t worth feeling like a human dumpster fire the next morning.

Taking a deep breath, I sat up, and stars exploded behind my eyelids. I swallowed hard, trying my best not to vomit. Fatigue weighed down my limbs, but I stayed upright. Just barely.

My brain swam in the remnants of too many champagne toasts as I pressed a palm to my forehead, trying to stop the sloshing. An all too familiar pain thumped in my temples, and no amount of pressure helped with the pain. It felt like the entire wedding party was electric sliding all over my frontal lobe.

Peeling my eyelids open, I tried to ease myself into consciousness. Unfortunately, sunlight blinded me because some asshole had thrown open the curtains.

Thoroughly disgusted with myself, I rubbed my forehead. I’d slept with a morning person, which was, of course, gross and completely unacceptable.

A glance around the room and a whole new wave of nausea turned my stomach.

Crisp white linens covered my legs, navy decorative pillows laid all over the floor, and the furniture was made of dark, sturdy wood. Tasteful art lined the walls, and outside the door, there was a lounge area.

It wasn’t my room. It didn’t even look like I was in the same hotel. My room at the Budget Lodge had some precious country motif.

While it’s never a good thing to wake up in a strange place, I’d made enough questionable turns in life to know how to handle even the most awkward morning afters.

A yawn fought its way out, but my lips stuck to my teeth. My tongue was so dry I had to peel it from the roof of my mouth. I needed a gallon of water pronto.

Adding to my overall discomfort, the AC kicked on, chilling my exposed, clammy skin. A quick scan of the room, and I found my bridesmaid’s dress shredded by the door.

Perfect.

Throwing off the covers, I took a tentative step, my foot crushing the beautiful lace bra that did wonders for my cleavage. Adjusting the underwire and sliding it on, I snagged the giant white dress shirt off the floor. A few buttons were missing, but it covered all the necessary parts—sort of.

In a serious stroke of luck, I shook out the duvet, and my panties fluttered to the floor. I whispered my thanks to the expensive undergarment goddess in the sky that I wouldn’t have to replace another pair.

Walking across the room searching for my shoes, I stopped dead in my tracks in front of the mirror.

Yikes.

Instead of being cute in a “look at how dainty this man’s shirt makes me look” way, I looked like an Amazon trying to escape Men’s Warehouse. The shirt struggled to cover my bust, the front gaping so that lace and pale skin peeked out if I moved my arms. Tugging at the hem did nothing as it was just as taut on my hips and ass, barely covering my panties. I was sure to flash a few folks the goods during my escape.

If only my ample ass on display was the worst of it. A paper bag on my head would’ve been a vast improvement. The once shiny, bouncy curls laid twisted into something more akin to a flaming rat’s nest. Black sludge had settled under my bloodshot eyes, and the skin around my lips was stained pink like a kid’s Kool-Aid mouth.

“A hot damn mess.”

I tried to rub away the leftover makeup with a few tissues and spit, but it only helped move the mess around and irritate my usually pale, white skin into a splotchy red nightmare. Sighing, I turned from the mirror. Best not to dwell on what can’t be changed.

Raking my fingers through my stiff, knotted hair, I searched for my clutch. Moving as quickly as my upset stomach would let me, I checked the sitting area before heading back to the bedroom. With my head under the bed, I kept feeling around, despite the room spinning.

The water stopped running in the bathroom.

“Hey Sash, you up?”

Startled, I bumped my head on the bed frame. “Son of a bitch.” I gritted out quietly, rubbing the sore spot. I recognized that voice.

Luca Moretti.

Flashes of the previous night rushed back to me—us near the bonfire at the reception with his hands under my skirt, me straddling him in the town car on the way to the hotel, my back pressed against a column in the lobby, me on my knees in the elevator. There wasn’t a place from the reception to the hotel room we hadn’t dirtied up, at least a little bit.

That, my friends, is a good night.

With a heavy sigh, I started searching for my purse again.

“If you want, we can go grab lunch or something. I know this great Italian place nearby.”

I absolutely did not want to grab lunch or something. My hands flew over the plush carpet under the bed until they landed on a shoe and my purse. “Almost there,” I muttered.

“Damn.”

I froze at the sound of his voice so close behind me. On my hands and knees, I peeked over my shoulder. Damn was right.

Luca leaned against the doorway with a towel wrapped around his narrow waist. His body was lean but broad. Something I hadn’t noticed the night before were the scars that marked his tan skin. They added an edge to his appearance that I very much appreciated. But honestly, what was there not to like with him all wet and fresh from the shower?

My gaze lingered on the tiny beads of water dripping from his black, wavy hair to his chest. They disappeared one by one into the bit of dark hair below his navel.

Dragging my tongue across my furry front teeth, I pried my eyes away from his glistening body. I needed to focus on the task at hand.

Too bad everything about Luca was a distraction.

Even his goddamn face left my hungover ass stupefied. The sunlight hit his sharp cheekbones and sizable nose, emphasizing the harsh angles, but warm brown eyes and pouty lips added an unexpected softness to his face.

He was no pretty boy. No, he was a rough, handsome man.

The longer I stared, the bigger his smile grew. He let out a chuckle, and it occurred to me I hadn’t said anything back to him and was instead staring at him like he was the last piece of cheesecake in the fridge.

Shaking off whatever spell Luca’s mere presence put me under, I gave him a toothy smile. “Hey, I was just looking for my other shoe.” I kneeled, steadied myself, and stood up as gracefully as a hungover bridesmaid could.

“I see.” Pushing away from the door frame, he strolled toward the closet. As he rummaged through his suitcase, I ogled his firm backside and thick thighs. I let out a little sigh of appreciation, and he glanced back at me around his legs, wiggling his ass at the same time. “I figure fair is fair.” His smile made my heart stutter, almost making me forget operation “get the hell out of dodge.”

Tearing my attention away from his bouncing backside, I lifted his pants off the floor, huffing when I came up empty-handed yet again. I stalked around the room, becoming more frustrated by the second. This was not the easy exit I wanted.

“Looking for this?” In Luca’s big hand was my heel.

“Yes, thank you!” I reached for my shoe, but he raised it above his head. Quirking an eyebrow, I put my hands on my hips. “Keep away? Really?”

He leaned into my space, the smell of his soap filling my nose. I wanted to nuzzle into his chest, kiss, stroke and-

“Get lunch with me.”

For fuck’s sake.

Rolling my eyes, I jumped up and snatched my shoe out of his hand. I tugged down the tails of the shirt, and yet another button popped off at the top of my bust. So much for tasteful cleavage. I sucked my teeth and tried to smooth the front of the shirt. Let’s be honest. Nothing about this busted ensemble was tasteful.

Balancing on one foot, I slipped on my right shoe, then teetered on that slim heel to slide on the left. “I’m sorry, I have to go.”

Luca’s eyebrows pulled together. “So that’s it?”

Standing to my full height in the four-inch heels, I was over six feet tall but still an inch or two shy of his hairline. “Does there need to be more?”

His eyes narrowed, and his mouth set in a straight line. “No, I guess not.”

I had my out, but I couldn’t take those first steps away from him. So we stood there, staring at each other. I couldn’t look away from his dark stubble or stop thinking about it rubbing against the inside of my thighs. His pink tongue darted out to wet his lower lip, and my lips parted in response. God, I wanted to taste him.

Luca watched me with hooded eyes, his body leaning toward me, but he didn’t take a step closer. He didn’t need to. Doing nothing more than standing there, I struggled to keep myself from reaching out to touch him. A blush crept up my neck.

“How about your phone number? Can I get your phone number?”

The softness in his voice gave me pause. It coaxed me to give in, to give Luca whatever he wanted. “I don’t think that’s a good idea. I’m not in the market for whatever you have in mind.”

His hand brushed through his wet locks, muscles flexing with the movement. “You’re not in the market for a repeat performance of last night?” He picked up a flattened ringlet, twirling it with a gentle tug. I can honestly say it had never occurred to me to be jealous of my own hair until that moment. “I know you had a good time. What I don’t know is why you’re running out this morning.”

Annoyance cleared out some of the lust haze Luca’s closeness created. “Who says I’m running? You’re not asking for more sex. You’re asking for meals, for dates. I’m not interested.”

His hand moved to my earlobe, rolling the small piece of flesh between his thumb and finger. I leaned in, hating and loving the feel of his touch, hating that I loved it so much. “What if we kept it purely physical? Can I have your number then?”

I couldn’t help but smile at his perseverance. Shaking my head, I tried to find the right words to make him understand. “Luca, you aren’t the type. Your first instinct after a one-night stand was to take me for Italian. Lunches lead to dinners, dinners lead to meeting the friends, meeting the friends leads to meeting the family. See where I’m going with this?”

Luca gently wrapped a hand around my neck, his fingers sliding under my hair. Goosebumps covered my arms the second his calloused fingertips grazed the sensitive skin there. It became harder to remember why I needed to leave.

I shuffled closer to him, and the corners of his lush lips pulled up into a small smile. Our chests grazed with each breath, rising and falling at the same time. Tiny drops of water soaked into the front of the white shirt. “A bit conceited, don’t you think? Who says I’d fall for you?”

I barked out a laugh as I pushed on his chest to create a little distance. His warm, wet skin under my palms made my fingers curl in, scratching him in the process. He was enticing. Too enticing. “No one, but I’d rather not risk it.” Taking a step back—the hardest thing I’d done that morning—I took a deep breath. “Last night was great, the best, but I need to get going.” Pinching the shirt’s fabric between my fingers, I pulled it from my body. “Thanks for lending me the shirt. I’ll get it back to you.”

Luca’s smile fell, and his hands dropped to his sides. Dark brown eyes bore into my face, resigned to see me leave. “No problem. It’s the least I can do after destroying your dress.”

Moving toward the door, I was hyperaware of his large body following closely behind. I tossed my nasty, tangled mane back and looked over my shoulder. “Don’t apologize for that. It might’ve been my favorite part.”

Giving him a dazzling smile, I winked and sauntered out of the room. The adorable family decked out in swim gear—staring at me like the disaster I was—made the ride down to the main floor kind of awkward. But what can you do?

The elevator doors opened, and I entered the lobby. With my head held high and shoulders back, I strutted from the hotel.

There’s no such thing as a walk of shame if you’re not ashamed.

After a brief stint as the half-naked woman on the sidewalk, my phone beeped, letting me know the rideshare had arrived.

As I slid into the Prius, the girl driving turned and stared. I buckled the seatbelt and pulled the shirttails down to cover my lacy underwear the best I could. Looking up from my poorly concealed crotch, I found pretty blue eyes locked onto my body.

I leaned forward, resting my elbows on the back of the front seats, offering a generous amount of cleavage thanks to the missing buttons. “It’s not that I’m not flattered to be ogled by such a beautiful woman, but I’m tired and just want to get home.”

The driver blushed and sprang into action. “Sorry. I just—Sorry.”

Leaning back in the seat, I smiled at her in the rearview mirror. “Like I said, not a problem, just bad timing.”

* * *

I slept the rest of the day away, waking up to my birth control alarm at eight p.m. My phone was full of missed calls and texts from clients, my assistant, Ashley, and an unknown number.

Ignoring the work calls, I texted Ashley back and went to the kitchen. My phone rang as I made it back to bed.

“Thank god! I was about to file a missing person’s report.” Ashley shouted in my ear.

Balancing a glass of cab filled to the brim, I settled back into bed. “You can’t even file one until I’ve been missing for 48 hours. Don’t be so dramatic.”

Ashley scoffed. “I’m not being dramatic. You didn’t answer my texts, and you missed metal brunch. You never miss metal brunch.”

The dry red washed over my taste buds, relaxing my sore body. It felt like Luca had sexed every muscle to death. “I’m sorry I worried you guys. It was a long night, and I needed sleep more than I needed waffles.” I pointed my toes, then flexed my heel, testing my calf muscles. The ache was ridiculous. “I feel like I was run over by a sex truck.”

There was a scuffle on her end as she whispered to someone, and then there was a masculine groan.

“Okay, spill.”

I sat up in bed, my friend senses tingling. “Only if you tell me who that was.”

“Just Malcolm. He was dropping off some leftovers from his date.” A door slammed shut, and she laughed. “He’s gone.”

Complication, thy name is Ashley. “That’s weird, Ash.”

“No, it’s not. He was in the neighborhood and knew I wouldn’t bother cooking while Ben’s out of town.”

I shook my head. Ben was her latest live-in boyfriend. He was perfectly fine, perfectly dull.

“Whatever you say.”

“Don’t. It’s not like that with Malcolm. You know that.”

“Mhm.”

“We’re friends.”

“Sure.”

“Oh, fuck you, and tell me who put that pussy in a coma.”

I snorted. “Wow. Please never say that again.”

“Okay, okay. But seriously, Sash, what happened to you? One minute you’re at the reception, the next, poof, you’re gone.”

I downed the rest of my wine, wiping my lips with my fingertips. “I left with Luca Moretti.” Tapping my fingers against my lip, I finally said in a breathy whisper, “He may very well be a sex god. I don’t know that I’ve ever been this sore.”

Ashley was quiet for a minute. “Wow. You must be in love.”

She laughed, and I fell back into my pillows with a groan. “It would’ve been perfect, but he wanted to take me to lunch. Who wakes up from a one-night stand and is like, ‘You know what? I could really go for a bolognese. You in?’ It was weird.”

“You know, some people are just polite. Who knows, maybe he wanted to carbo-load for round two.”

“No, not this guy. If you want energy for another go, you order room service. He wanted a post-bang date.”

“Why is that so bad?”

“It’s not. I’m just not that girl. After Beth, I realized I don’t have the time or attention span for a real relationship. It’s not fair to the other person.”

Ashley sucked her teeth. “Beth was a high maintenance princess. No amount of time was ever going to be enough for her. Don’t let that train wreck color your opinion on dating. Also, dates don’t equate to marriage, Sash.”

Squeezing my hand into a fist, I tried to keep my temper in check. “I fucking know that, but I also know that I would rather not have another Beth on my hands. That started as a casual thing and ended up being a fucking mess. I still feel guilty.”

Ashley cleared her throat. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t be pushing you into things you aren’t ready for. Consider my lips zipped.”

We sat in silence for a couple of minutes, and I picked at a loose thread on my duvet cover. Opening my mouth to speak, Ashley beat me to it.

“So, you’re really not going to see Luca again? Even with his freight train sexual prowess?”

So much for zipped lips.

“I don’t plan on it.” I shook my head. “It’s a shame Luca couldn’t be down with lots and lots of sex with no commitment.”

“We all can’t be like you.”

“You’re just jealous.”

Ashley sighed dramatically. “You’re right.” There was some rustling on Ashley’s end, like wrappers being opened. “It might be time to end things with Ben. We haven’t had sex in two months. Two fucking months! I’m going crazy.”

“Two months? That’s . . . I . . .”

“You sound like I told you I have cancer.”

“Sorry. I just can’t imagine going that long while living with my partner.”

Another sigh. I knew Ashley was miserable, but what I didn’t know was why she kept trying to make it work. “I know. I can’t believe this is my life now. Malcolm asked me if I had stock in Energizer. Dick.”

“And you’re just friends?”

“Shut it.”

“Okay, okay.”

“Look, I gotta go. I’ve got an early meeting with those people from Amerent.”

“I forgot that’s tomorrow. Good luck.”

“Thanks. I have a few things to go over with you once I get back to the office, so block me off some time.”

“Sure thing. Sleep tight, Ash.”

“You too.”

I settled further down between the sheets. Exhaustion from the night before made me ready for bed, even though it was only 9:30. Turning off the lamp, I snuggled deeper into the covers. Ryan purred on the pillow next to my head, his fluffy tail tickling my neck.

As I drifted off to sleep, my phone rang.

Yawning, I answered, “Hello?”

“Sasha?”

Oh shit, I knew that voice. The memories of him moaning over, under, and behind me quickened my pulse. Why the hell was he calling me? You don’t just call people. No one wants an unexpected phone call.

“Luca?”

“The one and only.”

I patted down my hair and straightened his shirt that I was still wearing. He couldn’t see me. Why the hell was I tidying up? Grimacing, I tossed the cover off my legs. “So, you got my number.”

“That I did. My cousin’s a very helpful guy.”

I rolled my eyes and muttered, “Michael.”

“Don’t blame him. I told him I found something of yours.”

“So, you’re a liar. Good to know.”

“Hey! I didn’t lie. I found lots of things last night. That patch of freckles under your knee. What happens when I bite the inside of your thigh. How you like my fingers—”

“I got it. Thank you. What do you want?”

My fingers twisted the ends of my hair while Luca said nothing. I pulled the phone from my face to check and see if he’d hung up when he finally said, “I just want an hour of your time.”

“No.”

“You don’t even know what I want to do.”

I tugged my hair at the root. “What do you want to do?”

“One drink. I want one drink with you.” I could hear the smile in his voice.

“No. I already told you.”

“Okay. I won’t ask again.”

“Really?” My shoulders curled with disappointment. I knew that wasn’t fair. I’d said no countless times in the past twelve hours, but I kind of hoped he would push through. I generally hated the “wear you down” tactic, but it was nice having him chase me for just a little of my time.

“Yes, really. I’m not a stalker, Sasha. I’d hoped you’d change your mind after having some time to think about it, but it’s okay. It’s not like you’re the only woman in St. Louis.”

I shot out of bed, itching to put my foot up his ass.

“Well, I’m glad you have so many options.”

“Shit. That’s not what—” Panic laced Luca’s voice, but it wasn’t enough to soften my hurt ego.

“No, no, no. You’re absolutely right.” I paced my bedroom, gesturing and carrying on as if he was there with me. “I’m sure you have no problem getting women.” Letting out a bitter chuckle, I gripped the phone even tighter. “A tip though? Maybe don’t mention your harem of lovers, even if you’re being rejected. It’s kind of a dick move.” Luca stammered out nonsense, but I cut him off. “Please don’t call me again. Although, with so many options waiting, why would you?

I ended the call.

Huffing out a frustrated breath, I tossed my phone into the pillows. Poor Ryan darted under the bed to avoid my tantrum.

I’d actually felt bad for turning Luca down. Part of me was even ready to say yes to spending a little time with him. But that last bit of bullshit undid all the goodwill he’d built. The reverence I had for his abilities in bed, next to beds, in hallways, in cars, etc., etc., dimmed by the second.

My reasons for turning him down, admittedly, sounded arrogant, but fuck if he didn’t take the cake. Well, you know what? That guilt for bailing on him was dead.

Luca Moretti could go fuck himself and that long list of willing women. Good thing I had long lists of my own.